Members of utility seek openness

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By David Giuliani

MORA — Members of the area’s rural electric cooperative voted Saturday to require the utility to follow the guidelines of the state’s open meetings and public records laws.

Meanwhile, they rejected a proposal to make it easier to move the headquarters —which many believed was a first step to move the cooperative’s base of operations from Mora to Pecos.

On Saturday morning, members of the Mora-San Miguel Electric Cooperative rejected all but one of 18 proposed bylaw changes. A total of 659 members took part in the annual election, with voting sites in Mora, Pecos and Las Vegas.

A total of 325 members supported following the state’s openness laws, while 275 voted against that change.

Recently, members of the Socorro rural electric cooperative voted for a similar proposal for openness, but that utility’s board has announced it plans to challenge that bylaw in court.

At least one local board member, Alex Garcia, who swore in Saturday, said after the election that he didn’t expect the Mora-San Miguel co-op to undertake a similar action.

“I think we should follow the (new bylaw),” he said.

The state wouldn’t have authority to enforce the open meetings and public records law at the cooperative because the utility is a nonprofit organization separate from the government. But the bylaws serve as the constitution for the cooperative, so its board of trustees is bound to them.

The state Open Meetings Act requires all meetings to be advertised and bars governing bodies from discussing public business in private, with a few limited exceptions such as personnel and litigation.

 The state Inspection of Public Records Act mandates that entities allow people to inspect all public documents and do so within a short time after requests.

The electric utility has maintained that it has been open with its members, but others say that the cooperative has been a closed society.

In other election results, an overwhelming majority rejected a proposal to lower the threshold to change the headquarters site from two-thirds of voting members to a plurality — or the largest number of votes. A total of 464 opposed that change, while 142 favored it.

Similar majorities also opposed alternating annual and monthly meetings between Mora and Pecos. All such meetings will remain in Mora.

Opponents of the proposal to lower the requirement for changing the headquarters contended it would cost millions of dollars to move the headquarters, while some Pecos residents argued that the cooperative needed to pay more attention to their area.

In his annual message, board Chairman Felix Vigil, who is leaving after 15 years, said most of the proposed bylaws would hurt the cooperative’s finances and operations. Some of the changes involved regional preferences, he said.

He said some previous bylaw changes have been negative for the good governance of the utility and some have cost the cooperative dollars that could have been used for improvements.

He didn’t identify which bylaw changes were negative. In recent years, the membership has reduced the number of trustees from 11 to five and eliminated the health insurance benefit for the part-time trustees — both measures that proponents contended saved money.